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What Causes Breast Pain?

written by: BStone • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/21/2010

There are several different causes of breast pain. Learn what they are and when to go see your doctor.

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    Mastalgia

    evening primrose Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, is generally a harmless yet uncomfortable condition. Many women may worry that it is a sign of breast cancer. While there are varying causes of breast pain, this condition is not a common symptom of cancer. It is far more likely that the discomfort is due to hormonal changes or even the formation of a benign cyst. See your doctor about mastalgia as they will be able to pinpoint the cause and discuss treatment options with you.

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    Pregnancy

    Breast pain is a common early sign of pregnancy. This type of pain is very specific and easy to recognize as the breasts will be tender and swollen. These changes take place one to two weeks after conception as the body's hormones begin to change.

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    Cyclical Pain

    Some women may experience mastalgia as a side effect of the menstrual cycle. As with tender breasts because of pregnancy, this cyclical form of breast pain is due to hormone shifts and may be barely noticeable or severe. The sensation may be present only in one breast or it may be felt as radiating pain.

    Why does this occur in some women? Cyclical mastalgia may be due to a decreased ratio of progesterone in relation to estrogen at different times during the menstrual cycle. It may be because of the hormone prolactin, or hormone changes because of stress.

    Recommendations for this condition include supplementing with evening primrose oil to balance essential fatty acids, supplementing with vitamin E or magnesium, eating a low-fat diet, minimizing caffeine consumption, relieving pain with over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol or Advil, using heat or ice packs or taking a medication that will either supplement or block hormones, such as birth control pills, Tamoxifen or Bromocriptin. Keep in mind that these drugs do have side effects. Talk to your doctor about what treatment method is the best fit for you.

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    Non-Cyclical Breast Pain

    When breast pain occurs all the time rather than only during the menstrual cycle, the condition is known as non-cyclical. A physical trauma may be behind the sensation, such as an actual blow to the area or previous surgery. If you are taking a prescription medication, it is possible that it is the cause. Some patients have experienced this side effect with antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft. Simply having large breasts can cause pain and discomfort of the breasts as well as the back.

    Fibrocystic breast disease, a condition in which cysts form causing lumpy and sometimes painful breasts is another possible cause. These benign cysts are not indicative of cancer, but definitely talk to your doctor if you find any lumps in your breasts. If it is a benign, yet painful cyst, a doctor can remove the fluid. If there is any concern of a malignant growth, they can do a mammogram or ultrasound to make sure it is not cancer.

    There are so many different causes of breast pain. Depending on the severity of the pain, and if it is cyclical or due to another factor, there are different forms of treatment available. Also, keep in mind that tenderness may also be a sign of pregnancy. Talking to your health care provider about your symptoms can help shed light on what the exact cause may be.

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    References

    American Pregnancy <http://www.americanpregnancy.org/gettingpregnant/earlypregnancysymptoms.html>

    Web MD <http://women.webmd.com/tc/breast-pain-mastalgia-topic-overview>

    Children's Hospital Boston <http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site1274/mainpageS1274P0.html>

    National Institute of Health <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000912.htm>

    photo by: The Marmot (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/themarmot/493401394/>